Meet KU's Authors
This speaker series, a partnership with the Lawrence Public Library, provides audiences with an opportunity to hear KU researchers talk informally about books they have recently published, taking us behind the curtain to explain why they embarked on these projects, what they found, and why their projects matter.
Tony Bolden, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk
WED JAN 27, 7:30 PM via www.crowdcast.io/hallcenter
In Groove Theory, Tony Bolden presents an innovative history of funk music focused on the performers, regarding them as intellectuals who fashioned a new aesthetic. Drawing on musicology, literary studies, performance studies, and African American intellectual history, Bolden explores what it means for music, or any cultural artifact, to be funky. Multitudes of African American musicians and dancers created aesthetic frameworks with artistic principles and cultural politics that proved transformative. Bolden approaches the study of funk and Black musicians by examining aesthetics, poetics, cultural history, and intellectual history. The study traces the concept of funk as it developed from early blues culture into a full-fledged artistic framework and became a named musical genre in the 1970s, presenting an alternative reading of the blues tradition.
Funk artists, like their blues relatives, challenged racialized notions of Blackness, sexualized notions of gender, and bourgeois notions of artistic value. Funk artists displayed contempt for the status quo and conveyed alternative stylistic concepts and social perspectives through multimedia expression. Bolden argues that on its road to cultural recognition, funk accentuated many of the qualities of Black expression that had been stigmatized throughout much of American history.
Marni Kessler, Professor, Nineteenth-Century European Art
Discomfort Food: The Culinary in Late Nineteenth-Century French Art
WED APR 28, 7:30 PM via www.crowdcast.io/hallcenter
At a time when chefs are celebrities and beautifully illustrated cookbooks, blogs, and Instagram posts make our mouths water, Marni Kessler trains her inquisitive eye on the depictions of food in nineteenth-century French art. Kesler argues that underneath the superficial abundance in works by Manet, Degas, and others lies strains of anxiety, nostalgia, and melancholy. She shows how images of food presented a spectrum of pleasure and unease associated with modern life. Utilizing close analysis and deep archival research, Kessler discovers the complex narratives behind such beloved works as Manet’s Fish (Still Life) and Antoine Vollon’s internet-famous Mound of Butter. Kessler brings to these works an expansive historical perspective, creating interpretations rich in nuance and theoretical implications. She also transforms the traditional paradigm for study of images of edible subjects, showing that simple categorization as still life is not sufficient. Discomfort Food marks an important contribution to conversations about a fundamental theme that unites us as humans: food. Suggestive and accessible, it reveals the very personal, often uncomfortable feelings hiding within the relationship between ourselves and the representations of what we eat.
Previous events in this series:
Susan K. Harris: Mark Twain, the World, and Me: "Following the Equator", Then and Now
In Mark Twain, the World, and Me: “Following the Equator,” Then and Now, Susan K. Harris follows Twain’s last lecture tour as he wound his way through the British Empire in 1895–1896. Deftly blending history, biography, literary criticism, reportage, and travel memoir, Harris gives readers a unique take on one of America’s most widely studied writers. Structured as a series of interlocking essays written in the first person, this engaging volume draws on Twain’s insights into the histories and cultures of Australia, India, and South Africa and weaves them into timely reflections on the legacies of those countries today. Harris offers meditations on what Twain’s travels mean for her as a scholar, a white woman, a Jewish American, a wife, and a mother. By treating topics as varied as colonial rule, the clash between indigenous and settler communities, racial and sexual “inbetweenness,” and species decimation, Harris reveals how the world we know grew out of the colonial world Twain encountered.
David Farber: Crack
A shattering account of the crack cocaine years from award-winning American historian David Farber, Crack tells the story of the young men who bet their lives on the rewards of selling 'rock' cocaine, the people who gave themselves over to the crack pipe, and the often-merciless authorities who incarcerated legions of African Americans caught in the crack cocaine underworld. Based on interviews, archival research, judicial records, underground videos, and prison memoirs, Crack explains why, in a de-industrializing America in which market forces ruled and entrepreneurial risk-taking was celebrated, the crack industry was a lucrative enterprise for the 'Horatio Alger boys' of their place and time. These young, predominately African American entrepreneurs were profit-sharing partners in a deviant, criminal form of economic globalization. Hip-Hop artists often celebrated their exploits but overwhelmingly, Americans - across racial lines - did not. Crack takes a hard look at the dark side of late twentieth-century capitalism.
Randal Fuller: The Book That Changed America
Randall Fuller is the Herman Melville Distinguished Professor of American Literature at the University of Kansas. Throughout its history, America has been torn by debates over ideals and beliefs. Randall Fuller takes us to a turning point, in 1860, with the story of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species influence on American intellectuals, who seized on the book’s assertion of a common ancestry for all creatures as a powerful argument against slavery, one that helped provide scientific credibility to the cause of abolition. Darwin’s depiction of constant struggle and endless competition described America on the brink of civil war. Creating a rich tableau of nineteenth-century American intellectual culture, as well as providing a fascinating biography of perhaps the single most important idea of that time, The Book That Changed America is also an account of issues and concerns still with us today, including racism and the enduring conflict between science and religion.
Laura Mielke: Provocative Eloquence
Laura Mielke is the Dean’s Professor of English at the University of Kansas, and her research focuses on the intersection of literature, politics, and performance in America before the 20th century. In her new book, Provocative Eloquence: Theater, Violence, and Antislavery Speech in the Antebellum United States, Mielke recounts how the theater, long an arena for heightened eloquence and physical contest, proved terribly relevant in the lead up to the Civil War. In the mid-19th century, rhetoric surrounding slavery was permeated by violence. Slavery’s defenders often used brute force to suppress opponents, and even those abolitionists dedicated to pacifism drew upon visions of widespread destruction. As anti-slavery speech and open conflict intertwined, the nation became a stage.
Richard Godbeer: World of Trouble
Richard Godbeer is the Director of the Hall Center for the Humanities and Charles W. Battey Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas. In his latest book World of Trouble: A Philadelphia Quaker Family's Journey Through the American Revolution, Godbeer presents a richly layered and intimate account of the American Revolution as experienced by a Philadelphia Quaker couple, Elizabeth Drinker and the merchant Henry Drinker, who barely survived the unique perils that Quakers faced during that conflict. Spanning a half‑century before, during, and after the war, this gripping narrative illuminates the Revolution's darker side as patriots vilified, threatened, and in some cases killed pacifist Quakers as alleged enemies of the revolutionary cause. Amid chaos and danger, the Drinkers tried as best they could to keep their family and faith intact. Through one couple's story, Godbeer opens a window on a uniquely turbulent period of American history, uncovers the domestic, social, and religious lives of Quakers in the late eighteenth century, and situates their experience in the context of transatlantic culture and trade. A master storyteller takes his readers on a moving journey they will never forget.